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Between the knee sleeves, weightlifting belts, lifters, grips, wrist wraps, and athleisure porn, sometimes it can feel like the only thing standing between you and a weightlifting PR is a shopping spree. No judgment if ~look good, feel good, lift good~ is your workout mantra—but if there's one thing money can't buy that'll seriously boost your strength performance, it's mobility.
Mobility has become a bit of a buzzword in the last few years, but what the heck is it? Read on to learn why mobility is so important for strength gains and injury prevention. Plus, how a $2 tool can help boost yours.
What Is Mobility and Why Is It Important?
Mobility is "your ability to use your muscles to actively take your joint through its full range of motion," according to physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company. (See: Mobility Myths You Should Ignore)
It's not just for your hips and shoulders either. "You want adequate mobility at all your joints because if there's one part that has too much or too little mobility, other parts of your body are going to have to take over and compensate," he explains.
Having limited mobility could be the reason your fitness or strength performance has plateaued—but long-term, it can lead to overuse injuries and/or pain, explains Wickham.
"Being able to move freely without pain or stiffness gives a greater edge for any performance athlete," agrees Tony Carvajal, a Certified CrossFit Trainer with RSP Nutrition. And luckily, "you can improve your mobility simply by regaining that full range of motion," says Wickham.
Enter the unsung hero of mobility work: the PVC pipe.
How to Use a PVC to Boost Your Mobility
Yep, the same white PVC pipes commonly used in plumbing and drainage can be used to boost your mobility. "The PVC pipe is a great tool to for loosening your joint like your shoulder joints over time," says Joe Gaines CF-L1 of CrossFit For The People in Albany, New York.
"It can also be used as a balancing tool or in place of a barbell to take away loading and teach technique," says Gaines. "I highly recommend its use for everyone from folks who are new to strength training to CrossFit athletes and Olympic lifters." (Related: The Essential Barbell Exercises Every Woman Should Master, Plus How To Do Them)
Here are some of the best PVC moves to add to your warm-up routine. "You should feel an immediate sense of looseness immediately," says Wickham, but it's going to take weeks of consistently adding in some of these moves to see performance gains and pain reduction. "Over time, they'll help increase mobility all over your body—hip, shoulder, wrist, ankle, etc—and ultimately boost your overall strength." (BTW, here's what happens when women lift heavy weights).
How it works: Do each of the following moves for the number of reps indicated. Use this routine as a pre-workout warm-up, or simply do them every day to improve your movement patterns.
You'll need: 1 PVC pipe (or a broomstick)
1. PVC Pass-through
Pass-throughs are a great way to open up your shoulders and chest before a workout, says Carvajal. "Just make sure to lock down your ribs and engage your core, so you don't cheat the intended range of motion (ROM) in your shoulders." (Related: Why Core Strength Is So Important)
A. Hold the PVC horizontally in front of hips with arms straight and hands in snatch grip (about a hands length outside of hips, palms facing hips). Tuck tail under, squeeze glutes, engage core, and think about pulling the pipe into hips by squeezing shoulder blades back and down to start.
B. With arms straight, slowly rotate pipe up, overhead, and behind hips (or as low as possible). If you have issues getting the pipe overhead, widen your grip.
C. Keeping arms straight, slowly bring the pipe back to front. That's one rep.
Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
2. Figure 8
The Figure 8 is similar to the PVC pass-through, but "it demands more of a circular motion, so it's going to really hit the end ranges of motion where things get sticky," says Wickham. These too will open up your pecs, shoulders, but will require more lat engagement than the PVC pass-through.
A. Start in the same position as PVC pass-through: pipe at hips, arms straight, hands in wide grip, glutes and core engaged.
B. Actively pull on the PVC as if pulling it apart. Then, keeping arms straight, bring the left arm overhead and then down behind hips. Then, do the same with the right arm.
C. Slowly return each arm to the front, one at a time.
D. That's one rep. Repeat, blending movements together into one fluid motion.
Do 3 sets of 10 reps, alternating which side goes back first.
3. PVC Pipe Shoulder Flexion Stretch
"In this move, the PVC pipe helps the athlete stretch their shoulder joint, before creating tension in the muscles on both sides of the joint," explains Wickham. "This is called an end range isometric stretch and helps increase stability within the joint." If you have tight hip flexors, you'll also feel this stretch there. (Related: What To Do When Your Hip Flexors Are Sore AF).
A. Start in a half-kneeling position, left leg forward and right leg back. Balance the pipe on one end, to the right of the left foot. Choke-up on the PVC pipe with the right hand, about level with your eyes.
B. Hinge at hips and sink chest down until you feel a stretch in your shoulder.
C. Contract the shoulder as if you're trying to push the pipe into the ground. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Release.
D. That's one rep. Repeat on the other side.
Do 10 reps per side.
4. PVC Pipe Lean
"This movement preps the entire posterior chain and helps boost the mobility needed for movements like the deadlift, power clean, and snatch," says Carvajal. (Related: What Exactly Is the Posterior Chain and Why Do Trainers Keep Talking About It?)
A. Hold the PVC pipe vertically along spine so that it's touching the back of head, between shoulder blades, and tailbone.
B. Keeping pipe in contact with each touch point, hinge at the hips so that upper body is leaning forward. Keep knees straight but not locked.
C. Continue bending until you feel tension at back of legs or just before the pipe detaches from one of the points of contact.
D. Slowly lift chest to return to start.
Do 10 slow, controlled reps.
5. PVC Pipe Front Squat
The PVC pipe front squat is a great way to open up the hips and ankles, while reading your wrists for the front rack position, says Carvajal. "It'll warm your body up for any movement with a squat or front rack position." Think: barbell back squat, front squat, power clean, squat snatch, air squat, or goblet squat. (Also try squat therapy to work on your squat form.)
A. Hold the PVC pipe in front rack position so that the pipe rests horizontally across the chest, with fingers and thumbs loosely wrapped around the pipe, fingers pointing backward toward shoulders. Rotate elbows until they are parallel to the floor (or as close to that as possible) to start.
B. Do an air squat while keeping elbows high.
C. Keeping chest up, continue squatting until hips go below parallel or form is compromised, whichever comes first. Then, keeping weight in heels, stand to return to start.
Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
6. PVC Overhead Squat
The overhead squat requires a ton of full-body mobility. That's why Wickham says it's best to progress to this movement after spending time warming up your body with the other movements on this list.
A. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hold the PVC pipe with a wide grip, then lock arms out overhead. Squeeze glutes, engage your core, and tuck your ribs under to start.
B. Initiate the squat by sending hips back and bending knees. Slowly descend, maintaining tightness in the upper back, and without letting the pipe go too far in front or behind the center line. Push up on the PVC pipe as if trying to touch the ceiling.
C. Keeping chest tall, continue squatting until you break parallel or your form is compromised, whichever comes first. Then, press through the midfoot to stand.
Do 3 sets of 5 slow, controlled reps.